The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 28, 2013

Moore tornado reopens debate about mandates for storm shelters

After seven children died last week in a Moore, Okla., elementary school, and 17 others also were killed, state, school and community leaders are renewing efforts to get more tornado shelters in schools and homes.

While everyone supports the need for more shelters, there is disagreement on ways to do it.

It is a debate close to the heart of many in Joplin after the 2011 tornado.

So far, only one state mandates storm shelters in new schools — although that could be changing soon — and no state or city in the tornado-prone Midwest and South requires them for homeowners.

Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis wants to be the first.

He reopened the debate last week when he proposed a city ordinance that would require all new homes in Moore to have storm shelters after the EF-5 tornado hit the town on May 20.

Although that is his goal, he acknowledged that realistically, city officials may be able to require the shelters only in new assisted living centers and apartment complexes because of costs.

Lewis said contractors will be part of the conversation with the Moore City Council to see whether a broader requirement is possible, given that storm shelters can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the size and type.

“We want to be competitive,” he said. “We don’t want to price them out of the market.”

Asked at a news conference if a similar mandate might be considered statewide, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin shot down the suggestion.

“We aren’t going to require people to do anything, but if someone chooses to do that, we certainly encourage it,” Fallin said.

Speaking in Joplin last week on the second anniversary of the May 22, 2011, tornado, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon also addressed the debate, saying he, too, opposes any kind of state mandate. He said he prefers the approach of granting money as it becomes available to subsidize storm shelter costs, rather than enacting laws requiring that storm shelters be built.

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